WHETHER it be relocating to a city for a new job or moving out for the first time to study at post-secondary, finding a new place to live is stressful. Scammers know that people in the midst of moving don’t always have time or capacity to do the necessary research, says BBB serving Mainland BC and Yukon.
It is sharing the first-hand experience of a couple who lost $5,400 to a rental scam, plus three tips on how to avoid similar scams in the future.
Former Calgary resident Carlha Perez was looking to move to Vancouver with her husband when she came across the perfect apartment, operated and maintained by a property manager in August 2022. Located in downtown Vancouver, she and her husband were excited at the prospect of a new home for themselves and their dog.
Although Perez was worried about not seeing the property in-person, she was reassured after completing a quick search to confirm that the apartment photos belonged to the correct residential building. After the supposed property manager chatted with the Calgary woman on the phone and even offered a ride directly from the airport to the apartment herself, Perez was sold. She and her husband signed a contract and sent the first month’s rent, a security deposit, and a pet deposit, totalling $5,400 by e-transfer.
A couple days out from their flight, Perez tried calling the property manager to confirm pickup time at the airport. The call went unanswered, and after a series of texts, emails, and more calls over the course of 24 hours, the duo realized they had fallen for a rental scam.
“This is a really unfortunate situation where the red flags were very well hidden, but in plain sight,” says Aaron Guillen, Media and Communications Specialist.
“Not only were the apartment photos most likely taken from a real estate website from years before, but the GST number on the signed contract did not match an actual business and the e-transfer email address wasn’t a professional business account, but a personal one. With such high demand for housing in and around Metro Vancouver, it’s heartbreaking to watch prospective renters become more desperate and fall for similar scams.”
Rental scams are a new entry on the top 10 riskiest scams affecting Canadians, according to BBB’s 2022 Canadian Risk Report. Although few come in contact with this scam (1.1% of overall reports), 4 out of 10 people (42.9%) who are exposed to it end up falling for the scam, with a median loss of $1,600.
Here are BBB’s four tips to lower your risk of falling for a rental scam:
1. See the property in person. If you can’t visit an apartment or house yourself, ask someone you trust to go and confirm that it is what was advertised. Sometimes photos can be misleading, even if they are actually the real deal. Photos could be taken before previous tenants caused damage to a wall or badly stained the floor. Also come prepared with questions for your landlord, such as: What are the rules around decorating the space, such as hanging up a TV or a mirror? What is the timing on the lease? Are there any additional fees outside of the rent?
2. Try to avoid paying strangers with cash transfer apps off the bat. Many scammers now ask for payments through Interac e-transfer, Wealthsimple, or PayPal instead of wired funds or prepaid debit/gift cards (as those methods would likely raise more red flags). Only use these apps with people you know or have met in-person. It’s ok to pay a landlord you trust with the former methods, but understand that you leave yourself in a vulnerable position if you use it for the first month’s rent or a security deposit.
3. Search online for similar properties. Do a quick search for the listing, landlord’s email address, and phone number. Confirm the legitimacy of a property manager/real estate agent’s GST number on the Government of Canada website. If you find the same ad listed in other cities, that’s a huge red flag. By doing research on similar properties, you can also find the average rate for whatever size space you’re looking for and can figure out whether it’s actually a steal or it’s too good to be true.
4. Do proper research to find a property manager and movers. Finding good moving companies and property managers can be really tricky. There are a lot of problems and people who might not be ethical. When you use BBB.org, you can see authentic complaints, honest reviews from customers, and a clear rating system. This helps you make smart choices about who to hire. In a time when trust is really important, BBB.org is a tool you must have. It makes sure your moving or property management experience goes smoothly and is safe.